Being unhappy or lonely speeds up aging — even more than smoking

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HONG KONG — Being unhappy or experiencing loneliness accelerates the aging process more than smoking, according to new research. An international team says unhappiness damages the body’s biological clock, increasing the risk for Alzheimer’s, diabetes, heart disease, and other illnesses.

The team reports that they detected aging acceleration among people with a history of stroke, liver and lung diseases, smoking, and in people with a vulnerable mental state. Interestingly, feeling hopeless, unhappy, and lonely displayed a connection to increasing a patient’s biological age more than the harmful impact of smoking.

The findings are based on the first “aging clock” study of its kind, trained and verified with blood and biometric data from almost 12,000 Chinese adults.

“We demonstrate psychological factors, such as feeling unhappy or being lonely, add up to one year and eight months to one’s biological age,” says study author Dr. Fedor Galkin from start-up Deep Longevity Limited, according to a statement from SWNS.

“The aggregate effect exceeds the effects of biological sex, living area and marital and smoking status. We conclude the psychological component should not be ignored in aging studies due to its significant impact on biological age.”

Aging clocks can catch the problem early

The international team’s tool bridges the gap between the concepts of biological and psychological aging. It shows mental health has a stronger effect on the pace of aging compared to a number of health conditions and lifestyle habits. Molecular damage accumulates and contributes to the development of frailty and serious diseases. In some people, these processes are more intense — a condition scientists refer to as accelerated aging.

Fortunately, researchers say the increased pace of aging is detectable by modern science before it results in disastrous consequences. These “aging clocks” can also help create anti-aging therapies on individual and large-scale levels. However, any treatments need to focus on mental health as much as physical health, the researchers note.

The team measured the effects of being lonely, having restless sleep, or feeling unhappy on the pace of aging and found it to be significant. Other factors linked to aging acceleration include being single and living in a rural area, due to the low availability of medical services.

“Mental and psychosocial states are some of the most robust predictors of health outcomes — and quality of life — yet they have largely been omitted from modern healthcare,” says corresponding author Manuel Faria, a neuroscientist at Stanford University, in a media release.

Loneliness is global issue that’s spreading

Last month, a worldwide study found loneliness increases the risk of cardiovascular disease by almost a third. A Harvard University analysis described 18 to 22-year-olds (Gen Z) as the “loneliest generation.” Data also suggests loneliness increased during the pandemic, with young adults under 25, older adults, women, and low-income individuals feeling the effects the most.

Co-author Dr. Alex Zhavoronkov, CEO of Insilico Medicine, adds the “clock” provides a course of action to “slow down or even reverse psychological aging on a national scale.” Earlier this year, Deep Longevity released an AI-guided mental health web service called FuturSelf.AI.

It offers a free assessment that provides a comprehensive report on a user’s psychological age as well as current and future mental well-being.

“FuturSelf.AI, in combination with the study of older Chinese adults, positions Deep Longevity at the forefront of biogerontological research,” says Deepankar Nayak, CEO of Deep Longevity.

The findings appear in the journal Aging-US.

South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.

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